Robert A Jacobs, "Nuclear Bodies: The Global Hibakusha" (Yale UP, 2022)


Robert Jacob’s book Nuclear Bodies: The Global Hibakusha (Yale UP, 2022) re‑envisions the history of the Cold War as a slow nuclear war, fought on remote battlegrounds against populations powerless to prevent the contamination of their lands and bodies. Jacobs’s book put these “nuclear bodies” and the legacy of our eighty years history of nuclear weapon and power use at the center of his inquiry. The contaminated bodies of the hibakusha and the contaminated grounds on which they live (or in many cases lived. As many lost their homes), Jacobs argues, are largely invisible because of the colonial and post -colonial power relations that made these communities a target to begin with. Nuclear weapon tests and power stations usually were set at remote places, and the harm was done to people with no political power. Furthermore, it is not just contemporary communities that were harmed, but also future generations. “Plutonium will remain dangerous for over two hundred thousand years, and uranium particles for more than one million years”. Eighty years of tests and nuclear power have saddled our future descendants with radiative waste, most of which is still not safely stored, “a global legacy currently sitting in spent fuel pools and dry storage casks, waiting.” The invisibility of the problem and people affected by it, Jacobs argues, is manufactured in science and politics. Furthermore, the way we study the problem historically further obscured its scope. Different sites have been studied through different national historical “silos,” Jacobs, however, takes a global approach, and look at sites from Nevada to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Kazakhstan to Xinjian, and the various Pacific sites that were sites of nuclear tests and accidents since 1945 to make the invisible global hibakusha visible.

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Ran Zwigenberg

Ran Zwigenberg is an associate professor at Pennsylvania State University.

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